The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a long-simmering dispute over whether Mount Holly Township's redevelopment plans are unfairly affecting low-income minority residents who are being forced out of their homes.
The high court has scheduled arguments for Dec. 4. The matter is one of several social issues the court will consider as it begins its fall session.
Mount Holly Mayor Richard Dow says he hopes that there will be a settlement before that time. He favors ending the litigation that the township initiated under the previous administration by offering the 20 families who live in the Mount Holly Gardens "replacement homes" similar to their rowhomes.
Many of the rowhomes that remain are solitary units since the township demolished attached units when some residents agreed to a settlement and moved out. But those who remain say they don't want to leave, or, they want the township to offer settlements that will allow them to purchase a comparable home elsewhere.
"We're still negotiating," Dow said.
The township wants to demolish all of the units, which were built decades ago, and allow a developer to build 500 market-priced condominums and apartments.
The residents, who are represented by South Jersey Legal Services, won a federal court ruling in 2011 that gave them the right to argue at trial that the redevelopment plans had a "disparate impact" on African American and Latino familes by moving them out and upsetting the racial balance. Many of the residents live in poverty and are unable to afford the units that are being built.
According to the 2000 census, 75 percent of the homeowners who once lived in the 320-unit Gardens were minorities.
Township attorneys argue in briefs submitted to the Supreme Court that the township moved forward with plans to redevelop the neighborhood in order to remove blight and a high-crime area. They deny the plans are racially biased and also question the claims that minorities are being unfairly affected.
The case would have far-reaching implications as the theory of "disparate impact" has been used for many years in litigation under the Fair Housing Act.